It wasn’t long ago when you could sign up for health insurance because you decided to build a business from scratch or take an exciting contract position, but then be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. With just a couple of clicks on a website, your whole future could be thrust into uncertainty.
We thought those days had gone. But we were wrong. The protections for those with pre-existing conditions have come under threat, and it feels personal because it is. Our health is the most personal aspect of our lives.
I live with severe chronic pain. It’s a complicated side effect from a mysterious infection I suffered from as a child, and it manifests as several pre-existing conditions, including an autoimmune condition, migraines, endometriosis, and severe back pain. Each day is a challenge.
Sharp, burning, aching, and gnawing are the first sensations I feel when I wake up. They ease a bit throughout the day, allowing me to do only a few things off my long to-do list. I usually choose to play with my toddler, go to work, and sometimes clean a small part of my house, but only if I’m having a good pain day. Then as the sun sets, the pain hits again with a vengeance. My body makes me pay for the activities of the day with rest, ice, and lots of pillows. Eventually, I fall asleep, to do it all again the next morning. I used to think that the protections that prevent me from being denied coverage or being kicked off my insurance were a built-in feature of health insurance — one less thing to worry about.
Now, I see these protections for what they are: a crucial safeguard to the care that nearly 1.3 million Iowans and I rely on every day. It’s a looming threat, and how that threat is addressed by our lawmakers is not insignificant. Just as we are expected to go to work, take care of our families, go to school, and pay our bills, we expect our elected officials to work for us and fight for the care our families deserve. That is why I am proud to lead Iowa Voices, a statewide campaign that’s mission is to hear and truly listen to Iowans’ issues. And together, we will amplify our voices and encourage leaders like Sen. Joni Ernst to fight for the issues that matter most to our families, like protecting those with pre-existing conditions.
We sent Joni Ernst to the U.S. Senate because she vowed to bring Iowa values to Washington, but she spent her first term trying to gut Iowans’ access to health care, voting to repeal pre-existing condition protections four times. Each of those votes and her vote on the tax bill would have put the nearly 1.3 million Iowans with pre-existing conditions at risk for paying more, and worse, could cost 187,000 Iowans their health care coverage entirely. She put the Iowans she promised to serve at the mercy of the insurance companies again when she supported an “age tax” bill that would have allowed insurance companies to charge people over the age of 50 five times more for the same health plan offered to younger people.
Day after day, we’re inundated with politicians talking at us about health care, but the reality is: we need to be heard instead. Iowa families are struggling with an unfair tax system, rising prescription drug costs, and the deeply-held concern that health care coverage could be lost due to politicians who put special interests ahead of the needs of working families. Now it’s time for Iowans to be loud — to lead the conversation and hold our elected officials, like Ernst, accountable for their actions.
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• Emily Holley is the executive director of Iowa Voices. For more than a decade, she has worked throughout the Midwest for organizations and campaigns that strengthen the voices of everyday people.